Talk about nerve-wracking. As season 13 of “Top Chef” rolls on, our own cheftestant Amar Santana is simultaneously stewarding his South Coast Plaza-adjacent Vaca through the final stages of preopening. (A date of December 26 has been floated on social media…) Pairing wine with sea urchin was the basis of the opening elimination challenge on last week’s third episode, and even though Santana told us how much he loves uni, it’s a tricky ingredient. His dish looked and sounded delicious: tempura uni and shiitake mushroom with lime ricotta. Padma Lakshmi and Food & Wine editor Dana Cowin seemed to like it a great deal, with Cowin even praising it for accentuating the wine’s “red fruit flavors, and the earthiness of the mushroom and the uni.” But he wasn’t part of the top three. Grayson Schmitz, who is inexplicably being given another chance in season 13 after mustering out of season 9, had the winning dish, a very simple salad pairing grapefruit with the urchin, and thus immunity in the coming elimination challenge.
Immunity would come into play later when Grayson opted to oppose Amar and another cheftestant in a twist announced by Tom Colicchio after everyone was already deep into prep. With Grayson safe from elimination, if Amar didn’t beat his opponent he’d be on the possibly-going-home list.
Amar’s olive-oil poached halibut in an intriguing eggless Bearnaise sauce, garnished with asparagus and morel mushrooms was generally well-liked around the judges’ table—Colicchio found the fish a bit overcooked, but praised the dish’s delicate flavors—and his opponent’s attempt at sous-viding beef failed completely, so if not for Schmitz he would have easily been safe. But it was a worst-case scenario: Schmitz’s pork belly dish was the judges’ favorite, putting Amar in danger of elimination.
But (YAY) it was not to be, not this time. Amar survived to cook again tonight, when the “Top Chef” California road trip goes to the desert, where the chefs will cook on a Palm Springs golf course. From the preview clip we can anticipate it starts with dueling ceviches and goes from there. (You can read about previous season 13 episodes here.) One more thing: GO AMAR!
UPDATE: While Amar’s orange team didn’t win, he escaped criticism, and Grayson Schmitz was asked to pack her knives and go to “Last Chance Kitchen”—so we may not have seen the last of her yet.